March Madness: Iveys, mother and son, in league of their own

Rutgers v Purdue
Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS – Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey figured out how to balance basketball and motherhood decades ago.

The challenge this season was splitting her time adequately between keeping the Fighting Irish’s resurgent season on track and playing the role of proud mother for son Jaden, a star guard for Purdue.

For the Iveys, it’s been a busy year – filled with the joys, disappointments and mysteries that so often clutter the minds of coaches and players. But in their world, mother and son have a basketball bond in their blood.

“I love coaching and mentoring and I love my child, so it’s a fun balancing act,” Niele Ivey said. “It’s sometimes very challenging because I have so much going on. I feel like sometimes, I can’t be there for him. So I try to find ways to be there for him – even when I can’t be there.”

Niele Ivey found a way to make the four-hour roundtrip drive from South Bend to West Lafayette more than a half dozen times this season, using the same roads former Irish men’s coach Digger Phelps once joked didn’t exist. And while she prefers donning her son’s No. 23 jersey at games, Niele sometimes shows up in the warmest outerwear she owns – a Notre Dame jacket, showing off the alma mater where she starred on the court.

She was there last weekend in Indianapolis when her son helped put the Boilermakers in position to win their first Big Ten Tournament title since 2009. And she was there again when her dejected son blamed himself for the championship game loss to Iowa on Sunday.

Through it all, the postgame hugs and private conversations helped this basketball family cope with life’s larger lessons.

“This is for real home,” Jaden Ivey said after a win last week in Indianapolis at the recently rebranded Gainbridge Fieldhouse. “Obviously my mom, she’s been here, played with the (WNBA’s Indiana) Fever, and as a young boy, I can remember coming here. It’s just a great atmosphere to be in.”

Niele Ivey hasn’t forgotten much, either.

In addition to the tears she recalls streaming down her son’s cheeks moments after coach Matt Painter offered him a scholarship, the first Jaden received, she also recalls exactly when she knew he was destined for a basketball career. From that point in middle school, Niele Ivey made sure she did everything in her power to get Jaden the right tools to succesfully pursue his goal.

“I started exposing him to high-level training and better teams, so he could receive the best coaching and training around,” she said. “I didn’t do much (coaching), just making sure he had access to gyms and facilities. I’d rebound a little bit, but I was always that voice in the background.”

They didn’t just grow up with basketball. They blossomed together, too.

When Niele accepted her first head coaching job last season, big things were expected. She played a prominent role on Notre Dame’s 2001 national championship team, spent 12 seasons there as an assistant coach before spending one season on the bench with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.

But that first, COVID-19 season as Muffet McGraw’s successor didn’t go according to script. They finished 10-10 and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.

Ivey needed to rethink some things.

“I said let me just focus on the work and getting better every day, get the team better every day because with the pandemic I didn’t even know if we were going to be playing sometimes,” she said. “It wasn’t going to happen overnight, so it kind of put my faith to the test. But I had to trust the process and continue to work and talk about the vision.”

Meanwhile, she knew Jaden was dealing with the tough transition from high school star to college newbie. It didn’t take him or the other freshmen long to make an impression in West Lafayette, butthen came a first-round NCAA Tournament loss to North Texas and suddenly both Iveys headed into the offseason filled with motivation.

They responded like champs.

Notre Dame went 22-8 and regained its status as a regular member of the Top 25. About 100 miles away, Jaden Ivey was emerging as one of nation’s top young guards, an All-American candidate and a possible lottery pick in June’s NBA draft as he helped Purdue go 27-7.

And this weekend, they will share their excitement yet again – separated by nearly 900 miles.

The Boilermakers open tourney play Friday against 14th-seeded Yale (19-11), the Ivy League champs. Then Saturday, the fifth-seeded Irish will face 12th-seeded UMass (26-6), the Atlantic 10 champs, in the women’s tournament.

“It’s a big week for us,” Jaden Ivey said. “Obviously, we get to play the game we love and do it at a high level. I think she’s focused on trying to win and lead her team, and so am I.”

But both will be watching, hoping and praying they can extend their seasons another day, another weekend, another month because that’s life in the Ivey League.

“After the season, I’ll just have to take a week and celebrate it,” Niele Ivey said. “It’s hard to do being in it because you’re always trying to do something else. I didn’t know what to imagine this season, but I definitely couldn’t imagine it being like this.”

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

1 Comment

SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

Getty Images

TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.